WE Inc. Advisory Bulletin – Better Safe than Sorry: Business owners urged to protect computer systems

WE Inc. -- Security companies that monitor corporate and government computer networks have noticed a worldwide increase in the number of break-in attempts by hackers as well as general "banter" in their chat rooms, which has led experts to believe a full-blown Internet attack is imminent. The U.S. Homeland Security Department has warned that the threat could have a significant impact on the Internet. Computer users are urged to download a free repairing patch that Microsoft has offered on its Web site. The repair patch was first offered on July 16 when the company announced a flaw affecting nearly all versions of its Windows operating system software.

Both The Homeland Security Department and computer experts have been ominous in their warnings, though some disagree as to the extent and timing of an event. For home users, applying Microsoft's patch requires a few moments of time. Businesses, and particularly larger companies, will obviously take longer.

Women’s Business Mentoring Programs Demonstrate Unique Characteristics

Washington, DC - Mentoring programs most beneficial to women business owners are well matched to the stage of business development and offer specific elements unique to women's mentoring practices. So says a new study released today by the National Women's Business Council (NWBC).

The report, "Mentoring in the Business Environment," examines existing, formal mentoring programs for women and men business owners by comparing program structures, identifying best practices, and exploring the unique characteristics among programs geared specifically to women. The study also reviews existing research on mentoring for women business owners and suggests avenues for additional exploration such as e-mentoring.

As of 2002, there are an estimated 10.1 million privately-held businesses in which a woman holds at least 50% ownership stake, including 6.2 million majority-owned women-owned firms. Women-owned businesses are growing at twice the rate of all U.S. firms.

"Women-owned businesses continue to drive our nation's economy," said Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Chairman and CEO of Carlson Companies and Chair of the National Women's Business Council. "With this growth comes increasing demand for the resources and tools to facilitate business advancement. Good mentoring can be a key predictor of success."

Seventeen organizations that focus on women, mentoring and entrepreneurship shared information about nineteen existing mentoring programs for business owners. The organizations included non-profits, membership organizations, universities, and government offices. The mentoring practices examined offer an understanding of what makes a program successful including planning, design, promotion, recruitment and support.

The study notes that at given points of a business' maturity, a business owner appears to be best served by a particular type of mentoring program. In addition, there are some specific program elements that may prove especially beneficial for women business owners. The study reviewed three categories of mentoring programs, each of which may best serve a business in a specific stage or phase.

These include: Entrepreneurial training programs (which provide subject-specific training to groups of prospective or nascent entrepreneurs) for businesses that are pre-start-up or start-up; Mentor-protégé programs (which match a business owner with a seasoned business mentor to facilitate coaching, knowledge transfer, and the creation of contacts, among other things) for businesses that are start-up or second-stage. Women business owners appear to benefit most from a program that matches one protégée with several mentors, or one mentor with several protégées, and gives each protégée the experience of a realistic stretch via a mentor(s) who is at the very next level up; and Peer-to-peer networking (which gathers non-competitive peers from a variety of industries to confidentially examine significant business challenges that each faces) for businesses that are second-stage or established. Women business owners would appear to benefit most from a structured form of peer-to-peer networking that plans participant composition, develops meeting agendas and monitors goal achievement. Irrespective of whether an organization offers entrepreneurial training, a mentor-protégé program or peer-to-peer networking, there are three key effective practices for business mentoring: Structure that includes a well-planned orientation with discussion of expectations, goals, time commitment and effective communication processes; Participants who are familiar with and embrace the concept of mentoring; and Promotion that consists of word-of-mouth and direct recruitment efforts. The study also includes a review of mainstream and academic literature on mentoring for women business owners. The review reveals that discussion and analysis of business mentoring has focused primarily on corporate mentoring and related programs. Very little has been written on the topic of mentoring programming for business owners.

The study concludes with several recommendations for continued research and program support, including: Exploring e-mentoring (also known as telementoring) programs and their advantages for women business owners; Raising the profile of the mentoring concept through outreach. Methods might include: creating an online portal to serve as a single point of entry to business mentoring resources, with web links and information about existing programs; publicizing the business development tools of entrepreneur-support organizations that focus on helping business owners measure their successes and get to the next level; or working with major magazines whose audience is primarily women business owners to determine the availability of no or low cost advertising opportunities for women's business mentoring programs; Using the study's findings as a springboard for further research on the successful elements of each type of mentoring program; and Encouraging formal and informal evaluation of programs to help build the case for business mentoring and to help determine the extent to which women's program needs differ from those of men. While many of the organizations reported investing time in follow-up program evaluation through the use of exit surveys or informal verbal check-ins, it was noted that none have begun to evaluate their programs formally and consistently. "This study is a critical first step in understanding more about existing business mentoring programs and how they serve women business owners," said Carlson Nelson. "But this is just the beginning. This study will direct future research about mentoring programs and most importantly, it can inspire the creation of new ways to facilitate mentoring, such as e-mentoring, which will be vital in expanding the accessibility and immediacy of mentoring resources."

The U.S. Department of Energy Small Business Contracting Conference

The 5th Annual U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Small Business Procurement Conference is being held July 6-9, 2004 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the Philadelphia Marriott. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham is committed to increasing the contracting opportunities awarded to small and disadvantaged businesses. DOE purchases over $19 billion worth of goods and services annually including facility management, remediation, construction, research and development, management and scientific consulting, plate work manufacturing, administrative services, data processing, security, engineering, and waste treatment and disposal.

Seven Things To Do For Your Business Before December 31

1. Pay outstanding bills. If you're on the cash method of accounting, doing so entitles you in most cases to deduct these payments in 2002, reducing your net income and minimizing your taxes. If you're short of cash, charge expenses to your business credit card—you can deduct the charges in 2002 even though the credit card bill is paid in 2003. (Note: This deduction rule applies only to general credit cards such as MasterCard or American Express; not to store credit cards such as Staples).

2. Buy needed equipment. As long as it is bought and placed in service before the end of the year you can expense the cost (up to $24,000 for 2002) instead of depreciating it over a number of years. You can also claim 30% bonus depreciation (for costs over $24,000), as well as depreciating excess amounts under the usual depreciation rules.

3. Take inventory. To know where you stand, make sure to make a year-end count of what you have on hand.

4. Set up a qualified retirement plan. If you don't yet have a qualified retirement plan for your business, complete the paper work for one before the end of the year. This will allow you in most cases to make plan contributions up to the extended due date of your 2002 tax return. For example, if you're a sole proprietor and you set up a profit-sharing plan by December 31, you have until October 15, 2003, to put the money into the plan (assuming you apply for filing extensions for your 2002 return).

5. Amend your retirement plan documents. If you already have a retirement plan, be sure to keep it tax-qualified by signing necessary plan amendments reflecting law changes in the past eight years. Also, make necessary amendments so you're able to use new limits on plan contributions for 2002.

6. Hold a meeting of your corporate board or board of advisors. It's a good idea to assess where you stand and a meeting of your board can help decide where to go from here. What's been working for you (and what had not)? How's your cash flow? If it's been a good year, authorize year-end bonuses and dividend distributions. If you retain earnings, be sure to note in your minutes the reason for doing so to avoid potential accumulated earnings penalties.

7. Get ready for 2003. Now's the time to prepare for the coming year. Update your budget and payroll systems to reflect the new Social Security wage base ($87,000 in 2003, up from $84,900 in 2002). Set up accountable T&E; reimbursement plans so that you and your employees start the new year right with proper record-keeping for reimbursable business expenses.